iPads in the Classroom


A Trend or a Valuable Learning Tool?

As I am sure you are well aware, tablet computers are all the rage right now. These sleek devices, especially Apple’s iPad, are being adopted by people from all walks of life. Despite the hype, the ability that these devices have to engage and stimulate children is often overlooked. Kids love these things. It is not easy to forget the moment you see a child lock his or her eyes on an iPad with a look of awe and excitement. Even after the “new and shiny” effect wears off, most kids are still hooked on the iPad’s many excellent apps and simple user interface. Lots of high-quality and innovative apps children are released on the App Store every day, and people are starting to use the iPads as serious educational tools.

Many people are starting to advocate using tablet computers in the classroom. Given sufficient funding, these advocates hope to give each student in a classroom his or her own device to be used in every area of the curriculum. This is a very interesting idea that should be considered carefully by schools and educators. Although there seems to be tremendous potential for the use of iPads and other tablets in the classroom, they have yet to be fully proven as valuable tools to be used by a whole classroom of students. Objective tests and experiments have not been conducted to show whether these devices help students learn effectively. I am a 4th grade teacher myself, and I am deeply curious about the potential these devices have for students and teachers alike. In future blog posts, I will examine the current state of iPad use in elementary schools, ways they can be used effectively in the classroom, and areas that need improvement.

The Advantages of a Tablet

I believe that iPads and other tablet computers do hold tremendous potential as educational tools due to their relatively low cost, intuitive user interfaces, and the mobility and versatility they offer. Think about how much easier it is to set up and maintain a classroom set of 20 iPads than it is to set up a full computer lab of desktop or laptop computers. The 16GB iPad that runs on Wi-Fi would be sufficient for any classroom use, and at $499 it is very cheap compared to many computers that schools purchase for their students. It is true that the cheapest netbooks can cost significantly less than this, but these computers usually do not have the functionality and computing power necessary to be used in schools. Also, think about how much less space a set of iPads takes compared to the dedicated rooms usually necessary to house a computer lab. You could have a whole set of tablets neatly stored right inside the classroom, ready for use whenever the time is right. Apple has made an “iPad Lab” for holding and charging a classroom set of iPads, which can be seen here.

Certainly the low cost and ease of set-up is a huge advantage that tablet computers have over a traditional computer lab model. Not only is the iPad cost-effective, the software costs are also quite low compared to most educational software. Many of the best apps for education are free or below $3, thus an entire classroom set can be equipped with a great suite of educational apps in every subject area for a relatively low cost. In future articles I will be reviewing some of the best software available for teachers for each school subject.

Another advantage that iPad apps have is their intuitive user interfaces. I believe that these touch-based interfaces are a lot better suited for very young children (ages 3-7) as compared to a standard mouse and keyboard interface. An iPad app can be played anywhere, explored through touch and experimentation, and engage a very young child with a tangible and exciting experience. The interactive storybooks and apps for teaching the alphabet, spelling, and counting are of a high quality right now. Developers such as Duck Duck Moose, OceanHouse Media, and Motion Math are raising the bar for interactive and educational experiences for toddlers and young children. Additionally, these intuitive user interfaces have already proven to be valuable tools for helping people with disabilities and special needs education.

The portability and highly varied functionality of these devices also make iPads and other tablet computers ideal tools for classroom use. Equipped with a good case, an iPad is pretty sturdy. It can survive the bumps and abuse that elementary students can dish out. It can be used in a number of different ways and places: at the desk, on the move, and even outside for a science experiment. The built-in microphones and video cameras are also decent and durable, giving the iPad the potential to be used in many new and creative projects for students. Students can shoot and edit a short movie with iMovie about the Declaration of Independence, or use Garageband to record a presentation or song about Hamlet. Aside from all the computing it can do, the iPad and other e-readers will soon offer fully functioning text books complete with interactive video explanation and note-taking capability. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is already running tests of their iPad text books by giving an entire algebra class iPads, and comparing their scores with a class using the print version. The story can be found on MindShift here. Although the software offerings right now are pretty good, App developers and educational publishers are just starting to scratch the surface of what is possible. I think the future is very bright for this nascent technology, but just like any tools we use in school, we must use them effectively and do critical research to make sure that they are actually beneficial.

Does it Work?

Apple will certainly tell you that the iPad is a magical tool for teaching kids. They are clearly pushing this as a new trend in education, which can be seen on their iPad in Education page which highlights many great apps for learning and education. It all looks good, but can these really be used as effective tools in the classroom? Can students of all ages benefit from these devices? How are they most effectively used? The low cost of tablet computers, ease of use, and versatility give them a lot of potential to be used as educational tools, but we are still not at the point where we can claim that iPads help students learn better or that they are the key to next-generation classrooms. Much work still needs to be done to examine the best ways that they can be utilized, and whether or not students are truly benefiting from their use. At this point, I believe the greatest ability that iPads have is the power to capture kids’ attention and imagination. This new form of interactive technology is very compelling to my students, and I have seen kids that were previously scared or uninterested in math become suddenly excited and motivated when they were playing math games on the iPad. I do not believe that iPads are going to suddenly make kids achieve higher scores, or make every student get A’s, but I do think they have the ability to engage and stimulate some students that might not otherwise be as interested in learning. Today’s generation of children is constantly exposed to rich and sophisticated media, so we need to make sure their educational experience is just as rich and sophisticated. We need to try to make educational software that is just as exciting and interesting as their favorite video games and movies.

In future posts I will be examining how teachers are using iPads in the classroom, the response from teachers and students, and cover some of the best apps and how they can be used in education. Check back often to see new updates, and please “like” me on my Facebook page and follow me on twitter if you want to hear more!

Here are some links to more article and sites about iPads in the Classroom:

iPads in the Classroom
Wiki about iPods and iPads in the Classoom
Edudemic.com article about iPads in the Classroom
News article about pilot program using iPads
SingularityHub Article about iPads in the Classroom
<-- InterAction Education Home Page


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